Ruling

09899-16 Turner v Sunday Mercury

    • Date complaint received

      13th April 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 09899-16 Turner v Sunday Mercury

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Philip Turner, on behalf of Jamal Thomas, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mercury breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Vile rapist footballer loses bid to clear name,” published in print on 28 August 2016, and “Rapist who falsely claimed he was budding Aston Villa star loses appeal”, published online on 28 August 2016

2.    The article reported that senior judges had ruled that Mr Thomas’s three convictions for rape against the same victim were safe, and would not be overturned. It said that Mr Thomas was a “Walter Mitty character” who boasted of being a former Aston Villa player, and had “hood-winked non-league clubs into believing he was a top player trying to resume his career after injury”. It said that jurors at his trial were told that he had played for England U21s, and Aston Villa’s youth academy. In addition, the article reported that during an interview with the newspaper prior to the trial, he said that he played for England U18s alongside a famous footballer, scoring a hat-trick against Spain, and played at semi-professional level for a number of respected non-league teams. The article said there was no record of his involvement with England, and that nobody at Aston Villa had heard of him. It also said that while non-league clubs were initially tempted by his CV, they lost interest after watching Mr Thomas in action. 

3.    The online article was substantively similar to the version published in print. 

4.    The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that Mr Thomas’s football career was fictitious; he said that Mr Thomas did play entry level football with the ambition to play at a higher level. He said that Mr Thomas represented Aston Villa at youth level, and provided a letter which demonstrated that he attended an England U17s training weekend at Lilleshall. He denied that Mr Thomas ever claimed that he played for England U18s alongside a famous footballer, or that he ever said he had played for England U21s. He also said that the article did not explain in sufficient detail the circumstances surrounding Mr Thomas’s convictions, and said that it was inaccurate to report that he was a “sex predator”.  

5.    The newspaper said that its claims that Mr Thomas’s football career was fictitious were accurate, and that there was no breach of the Code. It provided notes of the interview where Mr Thomas had claimed that he played for England U18s alongside a famous footballer in a 6-0 win over Spain, where he scored a hat-trick. It said that while it noted the letter inviting Mr Thomas to attend an England U17s training event, this did not mean that he was selected for the U18s, or any other England representative team. It also said that it did not provide extensive details of Mr Thomas’s convictions because of its obligations under Clause 11 of the Code, and Section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 not to reveal the identity of the victim. In any event, it did not consider that the article gave any misleading impression of Mr Thomas’s convictions.  

Relevant Code Provisions 

6. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator. 

Findings of the Committee 

7.    It was not in dispute that the jury at Mr Thomas’s trial heard that he played for England U21s, and the Aston Villa academy; the newspaper also provided notes from an interview with Mr Thomas which recorded him as having made the claim that he played for England U18s alongside a famous footballer, and scored a hat-trick in a victory against Spain. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). 

8.    The Committee acknowledged that the complainant disputed that Mr Thomas had exaggerated the extent of his football career. However, given the difference between the true details of Mr Thomas’s football career, and the notes provided by the newspaper of the claims he made during an interview, it did not consider that the article contained any significant inaccuracies. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii). 

9.    The reporting of Mr Thomas’s convictions for rape, without further detail of the circumstances in which they occurred, did not make the article misleading or inaccurate. This was particularly so where the article focused Mr Thomas’s claims about this football career. In addition, it was not inaccurate to label him a “sex predator” in circumstances where he was convicted on three counts of rape. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.   

Conclusions 

10. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

N/A

Date complaint received: 28/10/17

Date decision issued: 27/03/17